From parking lot to market spot
The parking lot behind 234 Moody Street may, at first glance, appear completely ordinary. But on Saturdays, the empty lot takes on a life of its own, filled with a variety of hard-to-resist, homemade products representing cultures from all around the world — and all around Waltham. The event is known as the Waltham Farmers Market — a weekly, highly anticipated affair that has occurred every week from June to October since its founding in 1991.
On Sep. 17, we had the honor of visiting this farmers’ market. It was impossible to leave empty-handed. With a plethora of options, varying from fresh produce and Ethiopian coffee to pork ribs and Peruvian baked goods, there is something there for everyone. Aside from running into three other Brandeis students, one of whom was “happy to see the community come together,” we were also able to speak with a number of vendors about their experiences at the market.
One such vendor, Spring Brook Farms, has been selling at the market for 29 years. They offer fresh produce, flower bouquets, homemade honey, and more. When talking to the vendor in charge, Cam, he outlined the simple thing that keeps him and the farm coming back: the [Waltham] “community responds to farmers.”
This idea was further reiterated when talking to the vendor of Happy Beans Roaster, who did not provide his name. Though Happy Beans Roaster also sells at Copley Square, Seaport, Newton, and other farmers markets around Massachusetts, the vendor felt that the Waltham Farmers Market has the best atmosphere, the best people, and the best support. He found that “the intent for everyone that comes here is to support and walk away with the best product.”
A few stalls down, the Valicenti tent was selling fresh pasta and sauces. When talking to the woman in charge, who also did not provide her name, she expressed that she loved coming to the market because the “people are happy.” She recounted one of her most memorable memories of the farmers market are the days when the parking lot is filled with live music and people dancing: the site references upcoming performances Oct. 7th and 21st from Dwayne Haggins and the Moody Street Dixieland Band, respectively.
We also spoke with Leo Keightley, the head manager of operations for the farmer’s market. Onboarding in 2011, Keightley said he thought he’d only stay in his position for a year – but two days after leaving the position, he realized how much he missed it and came back for more. It’s an incredible treat to come here and just be a part of this,” he said. The vendors here are amazingly capable, regarding their products, the things they make—they make it possible”.
When asking about the prices of the items in the market, we were reminded that while it may be cheaper in some cases to purchase from places like Market Basket, one here is paying for quality and variety in addition to supporting local businesses in the surrounding areas of Waltham. However, that does not mean that this place is inaccessible to those with food stamps or other forms of government assistance. Martha, a member of the Waltham Farmers Market committee, was excited to tell us about the initiative she’d brought to the space: an EBT/snap match program where up to $10 is matched in the form of tokens. She referenced the Healthy Incentive Program (HIP), which she says is a “model for the whole country.” This initiative refunds SNAP/EBT users up to $40-80 a month — depending on household size — when buying fresh vegetables and fruits from local farmers.
As those we spoke to emphasized, the Waltham Farmers Market places a strong importance on building a sense of community, providing a helping hand to those who need it, and serving as a vibrant hub for bringing the community together. It is more than just a shopping experience and destination; it is a place where friendships are made and smiles are shared. Though the market ends on the last Saturday of October, it will be back when the summer picks up again: the first Saturday of next June.
“Everybody … wants this — the city wants it, the farmers want it, and the people in the community want it,” Leo had said. Ultimately, the environment and community that the Waltham Farmers Market evokes can be summed up in one simple interaction we witnessed: two vendors across the parking lot, pausing amidst their day to exchange waves, each with a big smile on their faces.